17 February 2011

Jonah Keri, The Extra 2%. New York: Ballantine, 2011.

Neal Huntington, Chris Antonetti, and Dayton Moore can safely ignore this book. It will not tell them how to turn around their teams, no matter what the title says. In fact, The Extra 2% says almost nothing about the actual Wall Street analytic strategies employed by the Rays in their rise from worst to first; while the new management group responsible for the move has a financial, rather than baseball, background, that is their only significant difference from many other well-run franchises.

The most obvious comparable title is Michael Lewis's now-classic Moneyball, about the Oakland Athletics. That book is, in essence, a lesson in contrarian investing, or purchase of undervalued assets--in the A's case, on-base percentage--even though it is generally seen as an endorsement of advanced statistical analysis. The Extra 2%, on the other hand, has at its core a description of relentless arbitrage, or chruning assets in hopes of extracting surplus value from the transactions. This is especially apparent in the small-budget Rays's standard practice of trading star players for prospects as the stars become expensive: the Rays invest time in a player's development, enjoy his early years of price-controlled service, and begin again with another talented kid while someone else pays the big money for a star's decline phase.

Another baseball book, though? No, Keri, a former financial reporter who has also applied his analytic skills to baseball for numberous websites, ESPN and the Wall Street Journal, has instead written a primer on managing cultural change. Based on interviews with over 150 current and former Tampa players, past and current management, and other experts on baseball or economics, he provides a conversational, non-scholarly book which is easy to read and reinforces the notion that brains can, at least sometimes, be more important than money.

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